Israel blunders by broadcasting missile test live

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The Independent Online

In an extraordinary and highly embarrassing blunder, a secret Israeli missile test attended by senior generals was broadcast live via a civilian satellite whose signals could be picked up with a household satellite dish.

The broadcast could be watched in countries across the region, from Libya to Iran, using a one-metre dish of the sort that comes with most satellite subscription services.

The blunder, described yesterday by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth as "one of the most embarrassing fiascos ever to happen to the security establishment", was revealed after a technician working for Israel's Channel 10 television inadvertently tuned into the broadcast while conducting a routine scan of satellite frequencies. The network recorded the footage, and broadcast parts of it on its nightly news.

The test was carried out by the arms manufacturer Israeli Aircraft Industries, which described the missile as a "long-range and accurate artillery projectile". The company said the missile test had nothing to do with the Israeli army's defence systems. But three senior Israeli generals were present, including the deputy chief of staff, General Gabi Ashkenazi. A spokesman for the arms manufacturer said it was routine to invite army commanders in the hope they would buy new missiles.

The Israeli Defence Ministry said no classified information had been revealed in the broadcasts. But Channel 10 claimed sensitive information had been broadcast.

According to Israeli press reports, the military put pressure on the station not to run the report, and insisted the final edit was submitted to Israel's military censor, who ordered significant portions to be repressed.

The broadcast went out after a camera was set up to film the missile launch control room. It is not clear why these pictures were broadcast unencrypted via a civilian satellite. But, as a result, what went out by satellite included not only pictures of the launch itself being relayed by a monitor, but also the people in the control room, and their conversations. Yedioth Ahronoth said officials conducting the test spoke openly about classified information including defence industry computer access codes.

After the technician picked up the broadcast, he telephoned the station's defence correspondent, who told him to monitor the frequency constantly. Channel 10 recorded 48 hours of footage of the preparations and the two test launches, which took place over the Mediterranean on Tuesday and Wednesday. The missile failed, losing its course after two minutes and falling into the sea.

The Israeli defence establishment said the incident was a minor mishap, and the only details that were classified as "secret" were the dates of the tests and the direction of the launches. But that has not been enough to allay concerns in Israel. Amir Rappaport, writing in Ma'ariv, said: "The claims by the security establishment that the secrets that were broadcast were not 'terrible' will only harm its credibility. Whoever is acquainted with the details of the test knows that this exposure was a terrible fiasco."

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